Man against Monarchy

Dr. Ali Alyami's quest to end the vicious tyranny of the Saudi Arabian Kingdom.

Ali Alyami, Ph.D., is a courageous man. A Saudi native, he came to the United States on an Arab-American Oil Company scholarship in the late 1960s -- a privilege not typically afforded to the poorer inhabitants of Najran in southwestern Arabia. Earning five degrees, it did not take Alyami long to appreciate America and to fall in love with her openness. He married an American woman, and his two children are as patriotic as he is.

Alyami’s courage to speak out is grounded in his determination to bring democracy and human rights to one of the most oppressive regime's on earth -- the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is a fight of David and Goliath proportions.  From a one-room Washington D.C. office at the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR), an organization he established in May, 2004, Alyami valiantly labors to promote the “timely and irreversible transformation of the existing Saudi autocratic institutions to a system whereby all Saudi citizens are empowered to chart a peaceful, prosperous, tolerant and safe future for themselves and for their religiously and economically influential country.”

Alyami faces off with the might of the Saudi royal family, an entity with billions of dollars at its disposal. The family readily spends its oil assets to buy-off State Department officials, ambassadors, and even former U.S. presidents, in what has come to be known as the “revolving door.” Alyami, with his modest budget, has been fighting an uphill battle against the most influential paid lobbyists in Washington.  He chuckled saying, “They haven’t run me out of town yet.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. Congress has seemed to tread more carefully in its dealings with Saudi Arabia. However, many in government still “look the other way” when it comes to major human right abuses by this repressive Wahhabi Muslim regime.  The Kingdom’s 200-year-old blood covenant with the Wahhabi-Muslim establishment helped spawn 11 of the 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists who murdered 3000 innocent Americans on 9/11.  Saudi billions continue to fund worldwide radical Islamic terror.  The realization by many that Wahhabism poses a mortal threat to America and its allies has made Alyami’s work a little easier to bear.

The July 20, 2010 conference “Echoing Muslim Scholars’ Warning against Wahhabi Radical Islam: Should the U.S. Listen?," held at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capital Hill and hosted by CDHR, expressed concerns with the Saudi regime. Alyami said:

"The intent of this conference was to explore the implication of the Muslim scholars’ warning as it relates to the U.S.’s security, and to assess which policy should be pursued to counter Wahhabi Radical Islam as discussed by Muslim scholars at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.”

Alyami was referring to the unprecedented conference, “Wahhabism: Threat to Islam and the World,” held on April 25, 2010 with a constellation of prominent Muslim scholars and specialists in Muslim religious movements (mostly from Islam’s oldest University, Al-Azhar) who condemn Wahhabism as a “mortal threat to Muslims and the world.”

The assembled Al-Azhar Muslim scholars blamed Wahhabism for the oppression of women and religious minorities, for pitting Muslims against non-Muslims, and turning Muslim youth into terrorists. They also implied that the U.S. benefited from Wahhabism: “If it were not for Saudi money and U.S. ‘hypocrisy’ (nefaq), Wahhabism could be eliminated.” The Muslim scholars went on to say that Wahhabism “is used to terrorize the international community in some cases, and blackmail it in others.” During their deliberations, the participants said, “Wahhabism, as an idea and a movement, is the most dangerous enemy of Muslims and the world.” In their research and discussions, the scholars explained that Wahhabism relies on rejection of the “other and his thoughts.” They said that Wahhabism “spreads severe criminal and terrorist ideas that propel Muslim youth to commit heinous crimes, inflict havoc among people, and destabilize Muslim states and their rulers.”

Asked what impact the Al-Azhar conference would have in changing the nature of today’s Islam, Alyami responded, “It is a very sobering warning against radical Islam as practiced by the Saudi state internally, and a lethal doctrine upon which Saudi policies are predicated.” He continued:

The Al-Azhar declaration could have made a big impact on many Muslims, especially intellectual men and women, minorities, and millions of Muslims who resent the Saudi influence on their lives, as well as on countries, and relations with non-Muslims. Sadly, the Al-Azhar declaration was hardly mentioned in Arab and Muslim media, print or visual. It was not mentioned in Western media either. This is due to two factors: Saudi influence on global media and fear, especially in the West, of being accused of being ‘Muslim bashers.’ CDHR was the only entity that held a major conference in the US House of Representative to discuss the Al-Azhar scholars’ warning against the Wahhabi threats to Muslims and non-Muslims. It was, however, covered by the US Alhurra Arabic Satellite, which is watched all over the Arab World.

Alyami also explained what changes he seeks with Saudi Arabia and to what extent U.S. administrations been helpful or obstructive: “[I would like to see] the people of Saudi Arabia both men and especially women empowered.” Alyami elaborated:

Because of its well known and documented influence on our government, private institutions, many think tanks, and mosques in America, the Saudi government is highly protected in the U.S. With a few exceptions in the US Congress, other branches of our government and many of the men and women who run them consider CDHR’s public and unabashed promotion of democracy in Saudi Arabia as problematic - especially at a time when the Administration is bending backward and forward to appease Arab oil rich absolute dictators whose institutions produce some of the most dangerous extremists on this planet.

Given that King Abdullah is in his 80s and his demise is in sight, it only made sense to ask how Alyami believed the potentate's succession would play out and whether the royal regime was threatened from below by radical elements. Alyami responded:

Contrary to the West’s glorification of King Abdullah, he is neither a reformer nor powerful. In fact, he is considered, by his family and subjects, to be the least capable and decisive candidate for king. The real power is in the hands of the remaining powerful Sudairi brothers, namely the ailing Crown Prince and Defense Minister, Prince Sultan, the religious extremist Prince Salman, governor of the Saudi central region - including the capital, and the ferocious Minister of Interior, Prince Naif.

Succession may not be smooth. Crown Prince Sultan is too ill to rule and may die before Abdullah. Prince Naif was appointed by the King to become second deputy to King Abdullah, because of the Sultan’s lengthy illness, but that does not guarantee ascendance to the thrown. Naif is loathed by most citizens, especially the youth, because of his heavy handedness through the vicious religious police, which he controls. Many members of his large family dislike him. These scenarios could create a palace revolution especially if the Third Generation of the ruling Saud dynasty compete for the throne. They are more competitive, less connected to one another and harbor different views on how to run the country’s domestic and foreign affairs.

Alyami also explained how he envisioned reform in Saudi Arabia with respect to the status of women, minorities, religious freedom, and democratization in general:

True reform is impossible under the present Saudi political structure. The institutions are not designed to include public participation. They are designed by one family and for one family, as evidenced by the name of the country, Saudi. The family imposed its austere doctrine, Wahhabism, which represents less than 10% of the population, on all the people. The Quran and Sharia’h, Islamic Law are the constitution and the law of the land and because they discriminate against women, minorities and non-Muslims, there can be no equality or freedom of any kind.

Ali Alyami’s dream of democracy in Saudi Arabia may be far off but as he puts it: “As long as my brain works, I will continue the struggle.”